27 September 2011

"The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people." (v. 20)


In 722BC the northern kingdom of Israel had been invaded by Assyria. Israel's leaders and many of its people were deported, never to return. The prophets saw this as God's judgement on Israel's refusal to heed God's commands.

In the southern kingdom of Judah the spiritual situation was about as bad. But Hezekiah was the king. He was a true successor of the illustrious King David. He saw the paramount importance of a spiritual rebirth - for both Judah and Israel.

Hezekiah's chosen vehicle for a new beginning was a passover celebration. That ritual, long in abeyance, had been established to remember God's rescue of his people from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 12).

Hezekiah convened a large assembly in Jerusalem. In the event, nothing was ready. There was no general agreement about how to conduct a passover. Worse, no one was spiritually prepared or ritually clean. The contamination of true worship and obedient living had spread everywhere.

Intense effort was made to put things right, so that a purified celebration could be held around the temple. Competing altars in Jerusalem were destroyed; religious officials (priests and Levites) were ritually cleansed. But what was to be done about the majority of the people?

A prayer by Hezekiah broke the logjam. It was for the absolution of the people. "The Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people." The best commentary on this key moment is found in the New Testament, in James 5:15-16: "The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."

To Ponder

Every act of worship, and especially every celebration of Holy Communion, is meant to mark a new beginning in Christian discipleship. What do you think can help your local church to experience rebirth through worship? And what about the Church as a whole?

What pattern of confession and prayer has helped you to be confident of God's forgiveness? And how has it helped?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks

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